In July 2020, Al-Haq engaged with the 44th Regular Session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, which was held in Geneva between 30 June and 17 July 2020. On 23 June 2020, the Council concluded its 43rd Regular Session following the Session’s suspension in March 2020 due to COVID-19. During the 44th Regular Session, civil society engagement was carried out virtually, while side events were cancelled due to COVID-19.
Al-Haq organised a webinar on the closure of Gaza as illegal collective punishment, parallel to Item 7 of the Council’s agenda on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, and joined a second webinarorganised by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on collective punishment as a tool of domination over the Palestinian people during the 44th Regular Session. Al-Haq also delivered two video interventions under Items 3 and 7 and joined another three statements by partner organisations under Item 7. Ahead of the 44th Regular Session, Al-Haq and partners from Palestinian and regional civil society submitted two written statements to the Human Rights Council calling for the illegal closure of Gaza to be lifted and for the Human Rights Council to bring an end to illegal Israeli annexation.
Welcoming the report of the Special Rapporteur on collective punishment
During the 44th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Professor Michael Lynk delivered his annual report to the Council, addressing Israel’s illegal collective punishment policy targeting the Palestinian people. Palestinian civil society welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur, which called on Israel, the Occupying Power, to “end all measures amounting to collective punishment, including an end to the closure of Gaza, all restrictions on freedom of movement across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the punitive demolitions of homes, the punitive residency revocations, the cutting of benefits, the punitive closures of towns and all delays in returning bodies for burial.”
Palestinian civil society organisations welcomed the report, which “examines one of Israel’s well-worn policies of imposing unlawful collective punishment measures as a tool of repression, control, and domination over the Palestinian people to maintain its settler-colonial and apartheid regime.” They also reaffirmed the recommendations contained in the Special Rapporteur’s report to the Human Rights Council, which called on Israel, the Occupying Power, to end its 53-year-old occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and urged the international community to “take all measures, including countermeasures and sanctions, necessary to ensure the respect by Israel of its duty under international law to end the occupation.” Palestinian civil society further stressed the need for international justice and accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinian people, including at the International Criminal Court, and urged Third States to adopt effective measures to bring an end to Israel’s illegal collective punishment, including through sanctions and countermeasures.
Read the joint statement by Palestinian civil society welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s report on collective punishment here.
Joint webinar with UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk
On 14 July 2020, Al-Haq co-sponsored a webinar titled “The Price of Impunity: How Israel Uses Collective Punishment as a Tool of Domination,” which was organised by CIHRS in parallel to the 44th Regular Session. Attended by UN Member States, representatives of UN bodies, human rights organisations, civil society, and academics, the webinar included a presentation by the UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk of his recent report on collective punishment, in which he warned that “like torture, there are no permissible exceptions to the use of collective punishment in law. And, like torture, the use of collective punishment flouts law and morality, dignity and justice, and stains all those who practice it.”
The webinar included presentations by Al-Haq, the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, and the Community Action Center at Al-Quds University, who highlighted various forms of Israel’s illegal collective punishment policy ranging from the withholding of Palestinians’ bodies, to the punitive demolition of homes, punitive residency revocations as forcible transfer, and collective punishment imposed over Palestinian prisoners and their families. Al-Haq contextualized Israel’s widespread and systematic use of collective punishment within the broader context of Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people, stressing that “Through collective punishment and other measures of subjugation and control, Israel continues to entrench its strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people in an effort to prevent Palestinians from collectively challenging Israeli apartheid, with the ultimate goal of denying Palestinians the exercise of their inalienable rights to self-determination and return.”
Joint webinar on the closure of Gaza as collective punishment
On 15 July 2020, Al-Haq organised a webinar titled “Collective Punishment in Gaza: 13 Years of Illegal Closure with Impunity” also in parallel to the 44th Regular Session. The webinar was co-sponsored by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Adalah, CIHRS, and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), and follows the launch of the Gaza 2020: Lift the Closure campaign in June 2020 by civil society organisations. Moderated by CIHRS, the webinar included presentations by Professor Shane Darcy of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, as well as by Al Mezan, MAP, Adalah, and Al-Haq. The speakers, who welcomed Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk’s recent report, highlighted Israel’s prolonged closure of Gaza as illegal collective punishment over two million Palestinians, which has resulted in profound levels of poverty, food insecurity, unemployment, and aid dependency, as well as a recent increase in suicide cases in Gaza.
They also underlined the detrimental impact of the closure on the right of Palestinians to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as chronic Israeli impunity for widespread and systematic human rights violations committed against the Palestinian people. Al-Haq stressed that “it is time for States to adopt effective measures to address the root causes of Palestinian oppression, to recognise Israeli apartheid, and to lift the Gaza closure as a step towards overcoming Israel’s apartheid regime. This must start with international justice and accountability and an end to Israeli impunity.”
Webinar on collective punishment and international advocacy
On 21 July 2020, the Community Action Center at Al-Quds University organised a webinar titled “Collective Punishment in Palestine and Avenues for International Advocacy.” Moderated by CAC, the webinar included presentations by Palestinian civil society, including the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, Al Mezan, and the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC), as well as a Palestinian victim of collective punishment. The presentations covered Israel’s illegal collective punishment measures in Jerusalem and in Gaza, the gendered impacts of collective punishment on Palestinian women and girls, and a focus on the withholding of bodies as collective punishment of victims’ families. This discussion took place in Arabic and was directed at Palestinian civil society organisations and Palestinian families who have been subjected to Israel’s illegal collective punishment policies as measures of oppression and control.
One of the speakers was Azhar Abu Srour, the mother of Abdul Hamid Abu Srour, a resident of Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, who died in April 2016 at the age of 19, reportedly from wounds sustained while carrying out an attack on a bus in Jerusalem. Her son’s body has been withheld by the Israeli occupying authorities since 2016 as an illegal form of collective punishment against Abdul Hamid’s family. Overall, 63 Palestinian bodies continue to be withheld punitively by the Israeli occupying authorities, while the bodies of at least 253 Palestinians have been languishing, yet to be identified, in Israel’s “cemeteries of numbers.” Azhar Abu Srour has been campaigning for the release of all Palestinians’ bodies illegally withheld from their families, denying them a proper and dignified burial in accordance with their customs, with her son’s body being the longest withheld to date.
In 2016, the UN Committee against Torture considered that Israel’s practice of withholding the bodies of Palestinians amounts to prohibited ill-treatment of their families, and called on Israel, the Occupying Power, to “take the measures necessary to return the bodies of the Palestinians that have not yet been returned to their relatives as soon as possible so they can be buried in accordance with their traditions and religious customs, and to avoid that similar situations are repeated in the future.”
Community Action Center’s webinar titled “Collective Punishment in Palestine and Avenues for International Advocacy” can be watched here.
During the 44th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, Al-Haq delivered a video intervention under Item 3 during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The video statement, delivered by Al-Haq’s legal research and advocacy assistant, Shahd Qaddoura, on 9 July 2020, highlighted “Prolonged refugeehood, occupation, and closure, in violation of Palestinian self-determination,” as undermining “every aspect of Palestinian life, including their physical and mental health, through ongoing policies of displacement, colonial dispossession, and erasure.”
Addressing the 13-year illegal closure of Gaza, and the denial of access to healthcare for Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip, Ms Qaddoura stressed that “Israel maintains an arbitrary permit regime, controlling access to essential healthcare outside of Gaza and preconditioning urgent and lifesaving treatment for thousands of Palestinians, in what amounts to ill-treatment and, in the most severe cases, arbitrary deprivation of life. Last month, two Palestinian infants, Anwar Harb, nine days, and Omar Yaghi, eight months, died after being prevented access out of Gaza to undergo the surgeries they needed to save their lives.” She added that: “Since 2012, the UN has repeatedly warned that Gaza would become unliveable by 2020 should Israel fail to lift its illegal closure. It is 2020, it is time to lift the closure.”
In addition, Al-Haq engaged under Item 7 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories on 16 July 2020, addressing Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk’s collective punishment report. Al-Haq’s oral intervention under Item 7 was delivered by Ms Najah Erekat, the mother of Ahmad Erekat, who was extrajudicially executed by the Israeli occupying forces on 23 June 2020, in what amounts to a war crime. Addressing the Human Rights Council during the interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, Ms Erekat recalled that her son “was killed on 23 June 2020 by the Israeli occupying forces at the Container checkpoint, on his sister’s wedding day, while he was heading to Bethlehem to decorate the car. Ahmad struck the booth on the right side of the checkpoint, stepped out of his vehicle and put his hands in the air, indicating that he was unarmed. Yet, the Israeli occupying forces showed him no mercy, shot him five times, and left him to bleed to death for an hour and a half. They denied him medical assistance even though an ambulance was present at the scene.”
Highlighting illegal collective punishment imposed on the Erekat family, Ahmad’s mother added: “I am still waiting to receive my son’s body. Twenty-three days have passed since the Israeli occupying authorities withheld his body, which they continue to keep in their refrigerators. I also demand the release of the sixty-three Palestinian bodies that are still withheld since 2016.” Accordingly, Ms Erekat stressed: “I urge the international community to pressure the Israeli occupation to release all the bodies of Palestinians that continue to be illegally withheld and demand the return of my son Ahmad’s body.”
Also on 16 July 2020, Al-Haq joined three statements delivered by partner organisations on Israel’s collective punishment policy under Item 7. Al-Haq joined a joint statement delivered by Al Mezan together with Adalah and CIHRS, which thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report on collective punishment. The organisations recalled that “Israel’s collective punishment is manifested through an array of discriminatory policies and practices designed to punish Palestinians, including through punitive house demolitions, residency revocation, mass arbitrary detention, the withholding of Palestinians’ bodies, closures and movement restrictions—the most severe of which has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for the past 13 years—as well as the punitive denial of permits for Palestinians, such as work permits and permits for medical travel, excessively impacting Palestinian patients and their companions in Gaza.”
They also recognised that “Through collective punishment, Israel seeks to silence opposition and maintain racial oppression and domination over the Palestinian people,” adding that “Israel uses collective punishment to establish and maintain apartheid over the Palestinian people as a whole. These policies and practices are not carried out in a vacuum but must be understood within Israel’s broader practices of settler-colonialism.” Accordingly, the groups reminded the Human Rights Council and its Member States “that all High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention have a legal duty to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances, including to bring an end to all forms of collective punishment imposed by Israel, and to uphold the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including to self-determination and return.”
Al-Haq also co-sponsored the joint statement delivered by Adalah on 16 July 2020 under Item 7, which highlighted Israeli impunity for the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The joint statement, which was further joined by Al Mezan and CIHRS, stressed that: “Over the 13 years of its closure on Gaza, Israel launched three wars leading to massive civilian deaths and injuries, and destruction of infrastructure. Recently, the Israeli military continued to kill and injure Palestinian civilians during the Great March of Return, without sanction, an open-fire policy that was confirmed by the Israeli Supreme Court, which gave full discretion to the military.” The organisations recalled that “Israel upholds a policy of total impunity in the exercise of its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for committing serious crimes against Palestinians” and urged the Council and its Member States “to fulfil their duties to ensure justice and accountability for Palestinian victims in Gaza and everywhere else.”
Finally, Al-Haq also joined an oral intervention by CIHRS under Item 7, which highlighted voices of Palestinian collective punishment victims and welcomed the report of Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk “as the first step towards recognition of their pain and suffering, a recognition of these violations to their most fundamental human rights, including their dignity.”
The statement, which was joined by a number of Palestinian organisations, amplified the voice of Sarah Dwayat, following the punitive sealing of her home, who stated: “Since they took my son Abed, our lives crumbled. They punitively sealed our home and displaced us.” Similarly, Tahani Qunbar was quoted as saying: “The occupation punitively sealed our home with concrete, withheld my husband’s body, and fined my four children and me 2.3 million dollars as compensation.” The voice of Nadia Abu Jamal, following her forcible transfer from Jerusalem, was also highlighted. Nadia said: “Imagine the Israeli army breaking into your home and demolishing the house you spent a lifetime building.” Finally, the organisations emphasised the voice of Rula Abu Sbeih, who stated: “In spite of the occupation’s policies that aim to break my family, such as the punitive demolition of my home and the arrest of my children, we are more than ever convinced that we have to fight these injustices.”
The joint statement concluded that “Despite the international community’s condemnation of Israel’s use of illegal collective punishment, the Occupying Power continues to enjoy impunity. Victims of collective punishment continue to endure these oppressive policies. They call on you to act to end all forms of Israeli collective punishment against Palestinians.”
Read the full joint statement by CIHRS and Palestinian organisations under Item 7 here.
On 4 June 2020, ahead of the 44th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Al-Haq submitted two joint written statements to the Council under Item 7.
Together with Al Mezan, PCHR, and CIHRS, Al-Haq submitted a joint written statement on Israel’s illegal closure of Gaza as collective punishment, calling for effective measures at the Human Rights Council to immediately lift the closure and to address the root causes entrenching Israeli apartheid over the Palestinian people. The groups recalled that, in February 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the occupied Palestinian territory recommended that Israel, the Occupying Power “Lift the blockade on Gaza with immediate effect,” and that, on 22 March 2019, Member States of the Human Rights Council adopted the Commission’s recommendations and committed to pursuing their implementation, as mandated by resolution 40/13. Accordingly, the organisations called on Member States of the Council to adopt effective measures to implement resolution 40/13 within a clear and specified time frame and without any further delay, in order to lift the Gaza closure as illegal collective punishment.
Read Al-Haq’s joint written statement on Gaza to the 44th Regular Session here.
Also on 4 June 2020, Al-Haq submitted a joint written statement on annexation to the Human Rights Council, together with BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights and CIHRS, calling on Third States, including Member States of the Council, to abide by their responsibility to cooperate to bring Israel’s serious breaches of international law to an end and to uphold the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. In reference to Israeli government plans to illegally annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, the human rights organisations argued that while the international community has repeatedly reiterated the illegality of Israeli annexation, it has failed to adopt effective measures, including sanctions, to reverse illegal facts on the ground.
Accordingly, the organisations emphasized the need for international justice and accountability to put an end to Israeli impunity and called on the Human Rights Council and on all UN Member States to “Pursue international justice and accountability for suspected crimes committed against the Palestinian people by trying suspected perpetrators in their own jurisdictions and publicly supporting and cooperating with a full, thorough, and comprehensive investigation by the International Criminal Court into the Situation in Palestine.”
Read Al-Haq’s joint written statement on annexation to the 44th Regular Session here.
Overview of Al-Haq’s engagement at the 44th Regular Session
Watch joint webinars on collective punishment in parallel to the 44th Regular Session:
- The Price of Impunity: How Israel Uses Collective Punishment as a Tool of Domination (English)
- Collective Punishment in Gaza: 13 Years of Illegal Closure with Impunity (English)
- Collective Punishment in Palestine and Avenues for International Advocacy (Arabic)
Read all oral interventions delivered and joined by Al-Haq at the 44th Regular Session:
- Oral intervention on the right to health under Item 3
- Joint oral intervention on the killing of Ahmad Erekat under Item 7
- Joint oral intervention by Al Mezan under Item 7
- Joint oral intervention by Adalah under Item 7
- Joint oral intervention by CIHRS under Item 7
Read all joint written statements submitted by Al-Haq and partners at the 44th Regular Session:
Read UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk’s collective punishment report to the 44th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council.
Support our Gaza 2020 campaign:
- Read our blog: Gaza2020 – Lift the Closure
- Sign the petition to lift the closure
- Follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
 UN Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Israel (3 June 2016) UN Doc CAT/C/ISR/CO/5, para. 43.